Obama’s Middle East Trip – Accomplishments and Next Steps

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Jerusalem Convention Center in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First, I want to agree with my colleague blogger Alan Berlind on the key accomplishment by Obama in getting the Israelis and the Turks back into the “game.” As he notes, they are key actors in this region and without their confidence in each other and specific cooperation between them, any peace in the area would be much more difficult on a project that many believe is still a long  shot.

But this is not the only key accomplishment – the one that is necessary for real progress is creating an honest peace effort and a final sustainable peace treaty based on the “two state” formula with all its interrelated elements.

What Obama was trying to do in that key trip speech in Jerusalem was to reach out to the Israeli public and especially to the young generation, to try to convince them that he, is a true friend, and that he is committed to trying to bring peace to the region. And to show that backing the peace process, and eventually, an accommodation with the Palestinians is the right path towards both security and prosperity.  From the reactions on the ground this seems to have at last had some impact.

Finally, he had no intention on alienating the Palestinians and other actors in the region and wanted to ensure to all that America will be fair and helpful.  He has to be seen as an honest broker by Israel and the Palestinians.   They need to believe he has the fundamental interests and security of all in his mind and heart in the peace process. Otherwise, true negotiations will stall for lack of assurance that America will ensure no side is disadvantaged on critical issues of existential interest.

But now the hard part starts.

The biggest problem now is the follow-up by Secretary Kerry – no neophyte to this region and its troubles. That is an advantage.  But somehow he needs decisions from both players.  This means he has to be frank and has to work to modify Israel’s counterproductive and even disingenuous settlements stance, which is a real block to negotiations. And that means the Palestinians will have to continue and re-assert their effort to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist in peace and to deal with potential terrorism from their side. No small lift. 

To make all this work, I believe that there is a need for a bold “game changer” from the outside. A “Deus Ex Machina” solution.  In effect to make a proposal that “can’t be refused” by either side that provides such benefits that to turn it down would require political and economic madness and greater risks to do so.

 This can best be done by a group of nations like the EU, America, and key Arab and regional actors. But the U.S. would have to be the key “guarantor” especially on the security side.  This means a pact or a series of agreements taken together that is so “net” attractive it would be hard to dismiss and then for the leaders to face their citizens.  Both sides would have gains and losses but the “deal” itself would justify the costs.

In short, there would be a net “win-win” both for the region, for dealing with a host of threats that impact every nation and for the larger region from Iran to Egypt and North Africa. It would have the advantage of “smoking out” players who seek only conflict and not a balanced peace. Can America have the courage and diplomacy to have all the key players join in to address the “macro” questions that are the stumbling bloc to agreement?  Moving fast may be a necessity as the region’s old landscape is crumbling before our eyes and there will be a lot of “patching” up that will require much added focus.

After Obama’s trip there is a need to tap the fervency of his speech, his outreach to all sides and to lift the spirit of those who were swiftly losing hope.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

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